Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Film Review: His Mother's Eyes

"His Mother's Eyes"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

As the 47th annual Chicago International Film Festival continues, I managed to attend a screening for this somewhat interesting French film, "His Mother's Eyes" (2011), a film which was under the radar at the festival. Just what I like. I enjoy attending the films which others aren't seeking out. You never know, you might discover a gem. "His Mother's Eyes" isn't a gem in my opinion, but, it was a risk I was willing to take.

"His Mother's Eyes" stars the great French cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve. I hate to say it, but, Deneuve has not been in a film which I feel deserves her. I think very highly of Deneuve as an actress. Gone are the days when this beauty appeared in "important" films in which she would give stirring performances. No more "Repulsion" (1965), "Belle de Jour" (1967) or "Tristana" (1970) in her future. Now she appears in movies like "Potiche" (2011), "8 Women" (2002), "The Girl On The Train" (2009, which I also saw at the film festival) and "Apres lui" (2007). Mind you, none of these films are bad. I enjoyed "The Girl On The Train" by Andre Techine quite a bit. I thought it was one of the best films of the year. But, my appreciation for that movie and others had nothing to do with Deneuve. Films and directors don't seem to be using her properly anymore. Or are they simply not making films like they use to? Films which demanded more of her.

On paper "His Mother's Eyes" sounds like an interesting concept. The film centers on Mathieu Roussel (Nicolas Duvauchelle, who appeared with Deneuve in "The Girl On The Train" and other highly celebrated French films such as "White Material" (2010) and "Wild Grass" (2010) by Alain Resnais). He is a celebrity journalist. One of those people who hunts down the rich and famous and writes "tell all" books exposing old family secrets and scandalous sex stories and gossip. Mathieu has now set his sights on TV anchorwoman, Lena Weber (Deneuve).

In preparation for his new book Mathieu lands a job as a personal assistant to Lena thereby giving his access to her daily routine. He also manages to meet Lena's estrange daughter, Maria (Geraldine Pailhas) a famous ballet dancer. He never reveals to Maria he knows her mother and never reveals to Lena he has contacted Maria.

There are many secrets hidden in these people's lives. Why exactly does Lena and Maria have such a strained relationship. What exactly his the relationship between Maria and Judit (Marisa Paredes), an elderly Spainish women who acts as Maria's mother. We also learn Maria had a child, Bruno (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge) whom she gave up for adoption and now would like to contact.

Mathieu learns all of these family secrets. It is a goldmine for his new book. But after spending so much time with these people can Mathieu go through with his deceitful behavior?

Walking into "His Mother's Eyes" I was expected a suspense film. I felt the plot called for that tone. But "His Mother's Eyes" doesn't fall into that genre. It plays its material more heartfelt. It goes for drama. That was kind of a mistake in my opinion. "His Mother's Eyes" could have been a Claude Chabrol type thriller. In fact the great French master of suspense did make a film about a journalist interviewing a celebrity where sinister family secrets were learned. The film was called "Masques" (1987, I have reviewed it). That film had a tongue-in-cheek tone though. Still, I enjoyed that film a bit more.

For what it does, "His Mother's Eyes" has some nice moments. Unfortunately, once again, I wasn't impressed by Deneuve, the film doesn't really give her much to do. There aren't many scenes which require a great range of emotion, but, everyone else does a nice job. Geraldine Pailhas seems sincere in her scenes where she tries to reach out to her son. We can sense her optimism and defeat. Duvauchelle plays the creep, no morals character quite well. We can never quite tell which side of the fence he is on. Is he showing emotion or just playing a part, trying to manipulate these people?

The film was written and directed by Thierry Klifa. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with this director's work. But Klifa does have a fine eye and is more than capable of stringing a film together. I just couldn't get over the feeling that the movie was playing against what should have been a more natural tone and pace for this type of story.

I'm skeptical if this movie will find distribution in the United States, still, I'm glad I saw the movie.